Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 4 » Religion - Religious Gerontology, Patterns Of Religious Participation, Determinants Of Religious Participation, Religious Participation And Health

Religion - Religious Participation And Health

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Since the middle 1980s research findings have begun to accumulate on the salutary effects of active religious involvement on objective and subjective indicators of quality of life among older adults. Foremost among these are studies of the impact of organizational and nonorganizational religious participation on a host of psychosocial and health-related outcomes. Scientific investigations by medical sociologists, social epidemiologists, health psychologists, and physicians have confirmed a generally positive effect of religion in relation to physical health and to measures of mental health and psychological well-being. Much of this research has been funded by the NIH and has been conducted by prominent scientists at leading universities and academic medical centers.

Various dimensions of religious participation have been found to be positively associated with a wide range of health indicators in older adults. These include global self-ratings of health, functional disability, physical symptomatology, prevalence of hypertension, prevalence of cancer, and even rates of death. Many studies, for example, have found that active participation in organized religion seems to be associated with greater longevity. In epidemiologic terms both public and private religious behavior seems to be a protective factor against morbidity and mortality.

Likewise, religious dimensions have been shown to have protective effects in relation to a wide variety of measures of mental health and psychological well-being in older adults. These include self-esteem, self-efficacy or mastery, coping, life satisfaction, happiness, addictive behaviors, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Longitudinal research by Koenig and colleagues at Duke University suggests that religious participation not only exerts a protective or preventive effect, but also may be therapeutic, hastening recovery from clinical depression in hospitalized medically ill patients.

An important issue in social, psychiatric, and epidemiologic research on religion, aging, and health has been the differential saliences of organizational, nonorganizational, and subjective religiousness as sources of protection. Reviews of existing research findings have reached the following consensus: (a) organizational religious involvement is fairly stable throughout the life course, and then declines on average among the very old or disabled; (b) nonorganizational and subjective religiousness also remain stable throughout the life course, then increase slightly on average, perhaps to offset existing declines in organizational religiousness; (c) organizational religiousness is positively associated with greater physical and mental health and well-being; and (d) nonorganizational religiousness seems to be inversely related to health and well-being.

This latter observation is surprising and seems contrary to expectations, yet it has been observed, off and on, for many years. Only with the advent of good longitudinal studies has this anomalous finding been interpretable as a methodological artifact of the cross-sectional nature of most gerontological research on religion. In short, among very old or disabled respondents, nonorganizational religiousness may increase in response to health-necessitated declines in public worship. This would show up in analyses of study data as an inverse or negative effect of nonorganizational religious behavior on health. It does not mean, of course, that private religious practices cause illness; rather, illness or disability leads to an increase in certain types of religious expression as compensation for the inability to practice others. The complexity of this issue exemplifies the importance of longitudinal research for religious gerontology.

Religion - Functions Of Religion Among Older Adults [next] [back] Religion - Determinants Of Religious Participation

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